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  1. #1
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    Files in defense of 4 on death row allegedly forged

    S.F. investigator held in 'fraud at the highest level'

    By Don Thompson
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    February 22, 2007

    SACRAMENTO – California's attorney general charged a private investigator yesterday with filing bogus documents to aid four death-row inmates, calling the case one of the largest frauds ever perpetrated on the state's criminal justice system.

    Kathleen Culhane was arraigned yesterday afternoon in Sacramento on 45 felony counts of forgery, filing false documents and perjury.

    “This is fraud at the highest level,” Michael Farrell, a senior assistant attorney general, said after the arraignment. “This is someone who is trying to undermine the system.”
    Culhane allegedly lied for Michael Morales, who was sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of a Central Valley teenager, and other inmates.

    Questions about the San Francisco private investigator arose a year ago, when Morales petitioned the governor for clemency and prosecutors challenged the authenticity of several documents Culhane submitted on his behalf. His execution was stayed over the state's lethal-injection method, a matter unrelated to Culhane.

    The attorney general's criminal complaint alleges that between November 2002 and February 2006, Culhane filed 23 fraudulent documents designed to aid Morales and three other death-row inmates – Vicente Figueroa Benavides, Christian Monterroso and Jose Guerra. Culhane was working as a staff investigator for the Habeas Corpus Resource Center in San Francisco in each case except that of Morales, when she was employed by the inmate's attorneys.

    “She forged the signatures of those witnesses and jurors. Sometimes she made those documents up,” Farrell said in court. “Her actions are an affront to the legal system.”

    Culhane's job was to find jurors and witnesses favorable to the inmates and get them to sign declarations for use in their legal defense or requests for clemency.

    Her paperwork was then turned over to the inmates' attorneys and filed with the courts and the governor. The counts against Culhane allege she made up statements from real witnesses and jurors and forged their signatures, including six documents related to the Morales case.

    In one instance, Culhane submitted a declaration allegedly signed by one of the jurors who convicted Morales, according to a copy of her arrest-warrant affidavit.

    Investigators subsequently found that the juror never had been contacted by anyone working on the condemned man's behalf and that the document submitted by Culhane misspelled his first name as John, rather than Jon.

    Culhane, 40, did not speak during yesterday's court proceeding except to confirm her name in response to a question from the judge. Wearing an orange-and-white jail jumpsuit, she appeared behind a cage in a courtroom inside the Sacramento County Jail, where she had been held since she surrendered to authorities Monday.

    Culhane's attorney, Stuart Hanlon, told reporters after the court hearing that his client “has a strong belief against the death penalty, and she devoted her life to fighting it by legal means.”

    The other three death-row inmates whose cases were affected by Culhane were convicted for crimes dating to the early 1990s: Guerra by a Los Angeles County jury for a 1990 rape and murder, Benavides by a Kern County jury for the 1991 murder and rape of a 21-month-old child, and Monterroso by an Orange County jury for two murders in 1991.

    Those three remain on death row with pending appeals.

    Farrell, the state prosecutor, said Culhane's false documents in the Morales case have been withdrawn.
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

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    or otherwise distort statements of fact.
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    Culhane's attorney, Stuart Hanlon, told reporters after the court hearing that his client “has a strong belief against the death penalty, and she devoted her life to fighting it by legal means.”
    Ms. Culhane doesn't seem to understand what "legal means" means.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BugEyedBeast View Post
    Ms. Culhane doesn't seem to understand what "legal means" means.
    She doesn't have a strong belief against child rape apparently.

    Benavides by a Kern County jury for the 1991 murder and rape of a 21-month-old child
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

    Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
    or otherwise distort statements of fact.
    FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley

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    Found some more on Kathleen Culhane.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...&sn=005&sc=359
    The investigator accused of fabricating juror statements in a bid to win clemency for a man condemned to die Tuesday is under investigation for previous cases she worked on for a state agency that defends death row inmates.

    Investigator Kathleen Culhane, whose work is being questioned in the case of Michael Morales, was employed by the Habeas Corpus Resource Center between 2001 and 2005, the agency said Thursday.

    Culhane generated what prosecutors believe were bogus juror declarations from six jurors saying Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should spare Morales, who raped and murdered a 17-year-old Lodi girl in 1981.

    Although her work was regarded as high quality, the center said in a statement that it would review her past cases. Executive Director Michael Laurence declined comment.

    Morales' attorneys, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr and Los Angeles attorney David Senior, questioned the authenticity of the declarations Culhane said she obtained and withdrew them from the clemency petition.

    The California Attorney General's office and prosecutors in San Joaquin County, where the girl was killed, said they were fakes. Some jurors told state investigators they never spoke to Culhane and wanted Morales executed. Juror names were not part of the public record.

    One juror, Amador Martinez, 72, of Oxnard, who was not one of the six whose declarations were questioned, recalled meeting with Culhane for about 20 minutes on Jan. 29. The investigator presented a letter of introduction explaining the purpose of her visit and asked Martinez what he thought about the death sentence 23 years later.

    "I told her that as I recalled it was a real brutal-type case and that I think we, the jury, made the right decision," Martinez said.

    Martinez described Culhane as "professional, polite, not forceful," and said he never felt pressured by her to say or sign anything. Prosecutors later contacted Martinez to confirm that he had spoken with Culhane, he said.

    Culhane declined to speak with The Associated Press last week and her San Francisco phone was disconnected Thursday. The address listed on a business card she left with one juror led to a San Francisco business that rents post office boxes.

    The California Department of Consumer Affairs said she was not a licensed investigator.


    Her attorney, Stuart Hanlon, said Culhane committed no wrongdoing and that there was no discrepancy with the signatures she submitted and the ones obtained by state investigators.

    "We're comfortable that she didn't do anything wrong and we want to investigate the case," Hanlon said.

    Chuck Schultz, a San Joaquin County prosecutor who is urging Schwarzenegger to deny clemency, said the documents were forged and some signatures were misspelled. He doesn't believe Starr or Senior knew they were submitting allegedly false documents, but accused them of sloppy work.

    "Maybe they thought we were nothing but a cow county out here," Schultz said. "I think there was a little bit of arrogance out there, too."

    Starr and Senior said they did not know they were submitting questionable evidence to the governor.

    "We're deeply concerned and distressed that this issue has arisen in the first instance," Starr said, but he refused to comment directly on what happened.

    He said he was not concerned about his reputation but was focused on Morales winning a reprieve. He and Senior took Culhane's word "in the best of good faith" that her work was authentic.

    Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara School of law professor, said there was no ethical breach by either lawyer because they trusted an investigator who signed sworn declarations that she was telling the truth. In addition, Culhane worked four years at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, which gave her work high marks.

    "It's a lawyer's worst nightmare. You rely on people you trust and it turns out your reliance was misplaced," Uelmen said. "Unfortunately, these kinds of things do impact on people's reputations."

    The declarations submitted by Culhane said Morales deserved clemency because some of the testimony at his trial may have been fabricated. Starr and Senior also withdrew a statement allegedly from Morales' former roommate, who testified at trial that Morales practiced choking her before trying to strangle Terri Winchell.

    Culhane said the woman told her she was coerced to testify. That witness later told state investigators she was not coerced and stood by her testimony.

 

 

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